The Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, fish and plant foods and low in dairy and meat — has long been praised for its amazing health benefits. Research has also shown that following a Mediterranean diet can reduce the chance of developing conditions such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and even Alzheimer’s.
Ingredients in Mediterranean cuisine include olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, protein-rich legumes, fish and whole grains with moderate amounts of wine and red meat. Some of our top picks for Mediterranean foods include:
Olive oil, a mainstay in Mediterranean cooking, is rich in monounsaturated fat and antioxidant polyphenols, which may explain the region’s low heart disease rate. Olive oil contains oleocanthal, which may also help reduce inflammation throughout the body, lowering risk for diseases such as diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s.
Tomatoes are abundant in the Mediterranean diet and found in items ranging from salads with basil to fragrant sauces, soups and roasted vegetable medleys. Tomatoes contain antioxidants proven to help fight cancer. Their vitamins and minerals are also effective against cardiovascular diseases, toxins within the body, inflammation and high cholesterol levels.
Garlic is not only a key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet, but it is also a great source of antioxidants, is low in calories and can boost the immune system. Garlic is said to help reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, reduce acne and may even increase longevity.
Also called garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a popular legume used in the Mediterranean diet for hummus, salads, pastas, side dishes and main dishes. Chickpeas are high in folate, fiber, magnesium and manganese.
Fish and Shellfish
Fish and shellfish are high in protein and low in fat and key to the Mediterranean diet. Two servings per week of fish or shellfish are recommended. Replace red meat with options such as oysters, shrimp, salmon, squid, mackerel, mussels, tuna, lobster, tilapia, salmon and flounder.
These high-protein legumes are a staple in many dishes throughout Spain. Lentils are protein-packed and a great source of dietary fiber. In addition, they contain iron, phosphorus, copper, foliate and manganese. Lentils make a hearty meal that will keep you full with 115 calories, 9 grams of protein and eight grams of fiber per half-cup serving.
General Mediterranean Diet Guidelines
- Maximize your intake of vegetables, peas and beans (legumes), fruits and wholegrain cereals.
- Eat seven to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
- Eat fish and seafood twice per week; limit your red meat intake.
- Use monounsaturated olive oil instead of butter.
- Limit your intake of highly processed foods.
- Eat dairy, eggs, cheese and poultry in moderation.
- Choose healthful snacks such as fruit, dried fruit and unsalted nuts.
- Water should be your go-to beverage. Red wine is allowed in moderation.